Bean Poll

From Boston a six hour plane flight can either put you in London or Los Angeles — I’m betting most locals would go for the trip across the pond. That doesn’t mean everything from Blighty goes over big here — take “Mr. Bean” as a prime example. “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” opened with a resounding thud in these parts last Friday, and the rest of the country didn’t seem too enchanted either. I can’t speak for Peoria, but I think one of the reasons it flopped in the Hub is because we like our slapstick with a touch of grey matter. A guy in a tweed coat with a moronic expression on his face walking into lampposts may be the height of hilarity in other parts of the world, but not here. We may be snobby, we may be inflexible, but we’re not stupid.

My personal gripe with “Mr Bean” is the fact that actor Rowan Atkinson is capable of so much more. He’s slumming with “Bean.” Sure, physical comedy is tough, but wit without words leaves an actor on a tightrope with no safety net. Words, in fact, happen to be one of Atkinson’s strengths. If you’ve seen his work in the British TV series “Blackadder” you know what I’m talking about. He’s brilliant as a scheming rogue who spouts the most creative of put downs. He’s nasty, with morals as black as his name, and he’s a character for the ages. Smart and funny — what a concept.

The other amazing thing about “Blackadder” is how Atkinson can more than hold is own with some of Britain’s best performers — I mean we’re talking about Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and Miranda Richardson! Sure, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton provide sparking dialogue, but this is comedy that literally spans the centuries — and it’s Atkinson who holds it all together. Whether it’s Elizabethan England or the reign of King George “Blackadder” is a scurvy nave without an ounce of sentiment. It’s not until the World War I years that a slight, but poignant transformation takes place. It’s so good — and so not “Bean.”

I know Atkinson likes to think of “Bean” as a Chaplinesque character, but that’s a real reach. Chaplin’s tramp managed to speak for his times without speaking a word, but it was no gimmick. Chaplin found a truly inspired way to create art in the era of silent movies. “Bean” has more in common with the crass buffoonery of Benny Hill than anything else. “Bean” may be Atkinson’s retirement plan, but thanks to “Blackadder” it won’t be his only legacy.


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